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In the News

Study Says a Medical School Feasible in Spokane

Washington State University is well-positioned to develop an accredited medical school in the near future with a relatively modest investment from the state, according to a study commissioned by the university that was released Thursday.

The study found there is a “significant and growing statewide need” for more doctors, especially outside the Seattle metropolitan area.

Washington State University already has significant assets and long experience training medical students because of its health sciences campus in Spokane and its participation in the WWAMI medical education program operated by the University of Washington, the study found. The program trains students to become doctors in the states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

The study found that a medical school in Spokane could double the number of in-state students graduating from medical schools during the next decade, with no capital expenditure.

Preliminary accreditation could be earned in early 2016, with the initial class beginning in fall 2017, the study found

It would cost $1 million to $3 million per year in state funds during the next few years to start the school. Funding needs would increase gradually, up to $47 million annually when the school reaches an enrollment of 480 students in 2024-25.

“We think this is a reasonable amount,” said Ray Thompson of MGT of America Inc., which conducted the study.

The consulting firm presented its findings to Washington State’s Board of Regents in Pullman, Washington. The board is expected to take action on Friday.

An official for the University of Washington expressed disappointment that Washington State continued to pursue a separate, independent medical school. “We believe creating a second, $47 million medical school raises many questions and concerns about the highest and best use of limited resources,” UW Regent Orin Smith said.

The study also found:

— Washington will see a growing need for physicians during the next 20 years as the population ages, doctors retire and more people gain access to health care. “About 300 doctors a year leave the workforce in Washington and have to be replaced,” Thompson said.

— Washington is well below the average of 23 physicians per 10,000 people, except in a handful of counties, the study found. In terms of medical education, Washington offers 120 slots at the University of Washington medical school each year to students from in-state. But other states with the population of Washington typically offer more than 400 slots in medical schools per year, the study found.

The study found that last year, there were 340 people from Washington who were admitted to medical schools. Two-thirds of them went to out-of-state medical schools, the study found.

The study found that nearly half of the state’s physicians are in King County in the Seattle area, greatly exceeding its 29 percent population share. While 18 of 39 counties in Washington have 10 or fewer physicians per 10,000 population, King County has over four times as many, the study found.

Washington has two medical schools. They are the publicly-funded University of Washington School of Medicine and the privately funded osteopathic school, Pacific Northwest University in Yakima, which admits 135 to 145 students per year.

The study concluded that isn’t nearly enough to satisfy the current demand. It estimates Washington will need to train up to 400 additional medical students a year by 2030 just to meet the national average.

“The need for more primary care physicians throughout the majority of Washington is critical and well documented,” Washington State President Elson S. Floyd said.

Originally published in the Seattle Times Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 4:49 PM.

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